Last Friday, 48 year-old American Eagle pilot Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen was forced from the cockpit after airline employees detected booze on him at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Kristiansen subsequently failed a breathalyzer, was arrested, and currently awaits blood tests that will reveal how drunk he really was. He is suspended and faces an internal investigation that could cost him his job.
In the U.S., federal rules prohibit a pilot from operating an aircraft if he or she has a blood-alcohol content of .04 percent or higher—or within eight hours of having consumed an alcoholic beverage, the period known as “bottle to throttle.” As years of FAA simulator studies have shown, in addition to studies by Stanford University’s Aviation Safety Laboratory, impairment from the effects of alcohol occurs at surprisingly low levels. Bad hangovers can deeply affect pilot performance, as well. (How far we’ve come from the days when Air France flight attendants would, as a matter of course, serve pilots wine with their mid-flight meals.)